A Service Evaluation Report November 2020
This report outlines findings from research into how effective the award-nominated iSpace Wellbeing Curriculum is in supporting young people with their mental health and wellbeing.
The research was conducted in November 2020 against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic that had placed a huge strain on the mental health of children across the UK¹.
The research involved 325 pupils and 15 teachers across three primary schools.
A simple questionnaire was produced asking child respondents what they had learned through the curriculum and how it had impacted on their behaviour. A similar survey was prepared to learn more about the experience of teachers using the curriculum. The children’s version was tested on a small sample of primary school-aged children and a refined version was reviewed by an independent research specialist from a well-known children’s hospital.
The schools were given a choice of paper-based or digital questionnaires and all responses were anonymised prior to data analysis.
Nearly all children (96%) felt that the curriculum had helped them with their mental health in some way and 100% of teachers agreed. The results suggested positive impacts in numerous areas, including, but not limited to, more children accessing support, better understanding of emotions, improved relationships and, potentially, higher quality academic work.
Organisations like the Mental Health Foundation say that discussing emotions is important for wellbeing² and more than eight out of 10 pupils (81%) say the curriculum helps them to do this.
Nine out of 10 pupils (88%) say the curriculum has helped them to identify who to talk to about their worries and a similar proportion of teachers (87%) say that more children are coming forward to ask for help – though the curriculum does recommend a variety of support avenues.
Language is an important factor and 93% of teachers say that iSpace words like ‘niggles’ (small worries) and ‘stressors’ (big worries) have been helpful in supporting pupils to learn more about their mental, emotional, physical and social health. Two in three pupils (68%) say they are now better able to think of the right words to explain how they feel and seven in 10 (69%) are now talking about their feelings more than they did previously.
The curriculum teaches children to understand the science behind what they feel and gives them the tools to reduce anxiety.
Some 91% of children say they can now use breathing techniques to settle emotions like anger and fear. A further 87% of children now understand their niggles and stressors, which means they can recognise the difference between big worries and small worries. 72% of children say they now understand the concept of ‘fight, flight, freeze’ and how our mind can naturally react to stressful situations.
The impact of this improved understanding is that seven in 10 children (69%) now spend less time worrying since they started following the curriculum. 93% of teachers say that some children seem happier and more confident since they introduced the lessons.
One of the big benefits of the curriculum is its ability to help pupils to improve their understanding of, and relationships with, other people.
Some 85% of pupils say that the curriculum teaches them to be a better friend and 83% say that it is helping them to get along well with friends and family.
The curriculum teaches empathy and 87% of pupils say they can now see when someone feels sad, which can help them to adjust their behaviour. 93% of teachers say that pupils are more aware of how other people might be feeling. A pleasing 82% of children say that since the curriculum was introduced they have been able to help a friend with their feelings.
Mental health charities like Young Minds have said that there is currently too much emphasis on academic attainment in schools and not enough on promoting the wellbeing of pupils³.
This research suggests that good mental health provision could also improve academic results.
Some 71% of pupils say they have found it easier to concentrate on their schoolwork and 69% feel they have actually done better in their exams or with their schoolwork since the introduction of the curriculum. This is backed by teachers, with 73% saying that some children have improved the quality of their academic work since the lessons were introduced.
In February 2020, the Government announced that it would become compulsory for schools to teach children about mental and physical health and relationships from September 2020⁴.
With COVID-19 requirements further increasing teachers’ already heavy workloads it would be a huge challenge to ask them to also prepare a new curriculum on this important subject from scratch. In fact, recent research suggests that many teachers now want additional training and guidance to support pupils with their wellbeing⁵.
In response to all of these developments and, following significant philanthropic investment, the iSpace Wellbeing Board of Directors – who have all experienced mental health challenges directly or indirectly – took the decision to change the organisation’s business model, removing the previous charge of £2,500 per curriculum and making it available in a ready-to-go format and with full training at no cost to every school across the UK and Ireland.
The goal of the organisation is to improve and protect the mental health and emotional wellbeing of more than one million children by 2025.
This research suggests that the iSpace Mental Health and Wellbeing Curriculum is transforming the mental health of pupils by giving them the language, tools and confidence to support themselves and their friends with their feelings.
Nearly all children (96%) feel that the curriculum is helping them with their mental health in some way and 100% of teachers feel that the tools are helping the children to learn more about their mental, emotional, physical and social health.
With schools across the UK now required to introduce mental health lessons into their school, this ready-to-go, proven and award-nominated curriculum can be implemented immediately, with full-training and without any impact on a school’s budget. More than nine out of 10 teachers (93%) that have used the curriculum recommend it to others.
Dulwich Prep Cranbrook, Kent
Dulwich Prep Cranbrook is an independent day and flexible boarding school for girls and boys aged 3-13. Only 12 months after introducing the curriculum, it is already having a significant positive impact.
Teacher, Claire Pepler, who coordinates the curriculum at the school, said: “The children embraced the iSpace Wellbeing Curriculum straight away and it has really helped them to understand their own and others emotions, and to have the tools to ask for help when they need it.
“When schools were closed during the first COVID-19 lockdown that was of course a huge challenge for many children. I think the curriculum helped them to stay focused on their wellbeing and the lessons provided a welcome change of tone from their other subjects.
“Now we’re back in school I often hear children using iSpace words like ‘niggle’ or ‘stressor’ to communicate their emotions or see them doing breathing exercises to help them feel calm. They seem more open and understanding of each other and, because there is a clear overall framework, we’re all working together towards a common goal – which I think really helps.
“One lovely example of the difference it can make to individual children was when one of our teachers was supporting a child that was struggling with an exercise. She described how he put his pencil down, followed an iSpace breathing exercise – I Stop Pause And Calm Everything – and when he went back to his work, his letter formation was perfect. We were all so proud because no one instructed him to try a breathing exercise, he did it of his own accord and that just shows that this is now a tool that has become embedded in his life – and it really worked for him.
“We are equipping all of our children with the tools and the language they need to help them manage their mental health through the ups and downs of life, standing them in good stead for the future. The teachers are all on the same page too. If we have an issue with a child we can refer back to the lessons, asking them ‘do you remember what we talked about in class?’. The whole school approach is very important and, because it’s an ongoing curriculum, we can see the benefits increasing the longer it is embedded. I’m proud of how our children are progressing.”
Dulwich Prep Cranbrook was nominated as a Finalist for the Wellbeing Award at the Independent School of the Year Awards 2020.
Brentfield Primary School, Brent
Brentfield Primary School is a 2 ½ form entry state school that is proud to serve a diverse, multi-cultural community. It has been using the iSpace curriculum for over a year.
Headteacher, Nicola Harmer, said: “I had felt for a long time that there has been insufficient focus on children’s mental wellbeing in the PSHE primary curriculum.
“I’m proud that we’re pioneering iSpace Wellbeing because I know that we’re anticipating the needs of our children as they head out into the wider world. It provides the language of feelings so children are able to describe their emotions with greater ease. In addition it provides a “toolkit” of things that our children (and teachers!) can actively use when they find themselves struggling for whatever reason. I feel particularly proud when I hear children say things like: ”I was feeling really angry so I stopped, paused and calmed everything down.”
“The whole school is using a common language to describe their emotions. Sometimes, when I plan assemblies linked to iSpace topics, I feel the messages resonating for myself as much as for the children – so I know with absolute certainty that it is going to be relevant to them.
“If we hadn’t found iSpace Wellbeing earlier – I would be looking for this programme now. The team has been available and supportive throughout this period to help my staff embed this programme into the school.”